Displeased with the Go FlyEase
A reaction to Nike's hands-free shoe on Global Accessibility Awareness Day
Last month Nike released their new shoe, the Go FlyEase, utilising a ‘bi-stable hinge’ and a 'tensioner’ that allows a user to step in and out of the shoe with ease. A hands-free shoe is a game-changer for disabled people and something we have been asking for, for years. Its sleek design and durable mechanisms bridge a gap between popular and accessible fashion that has often made young disabled people, like me, feel they must sacrifice style for comfort. The hands-free shoe was built with accessibility in mind and gave Nike the chance to challenge the mainstream market. However, Nike has chosen to erase disability from its promotion of the Go FlyEase, despite its role in the shoe’s creation.
Tobie Hatfield, a Nike designer, began working on an accessible shoe after executive Jeff Johnson’s dexterity was affected by a stroke. Then in 2012, Matthew Walzer, a 16-year-old teenager with cerebral palsy, wrote to Nike about his frustration that he is able to get dressed independently but then still needs his parent’s help to tie his shoelaces. The letter reached Tobie Hatfield and the pair began to work on a prototype together for the FlyEase range. The frustration that Walzer felt is experienced by many of us in the disabled community.
Nike designer Tobie Hatfield and Matthew Walzer working together
on prototypes for Nike's new Go FlyEase range
credit: Nike News and Matthew Walzer
Finding a pair of shoes that I can slip on that are also firmly on my feet is strangely thrilling. It means I don’t have to sit down every time I want to put my shoes on. Slip-on shoes tend to be loose and flat, thus unable to provide me with the support I need when walking. I’ve found myself in uncomfortable scenarios where I’ve been unable to tie my laces because there’s nowhere to sit nearby and I’m unable to bend down safely. A seemingly small issue like that can create anxiety which can derail my entire day.
Now in February 2021, the hands-free Go FlyEase has been released with no laces, Velcro, or any need to bend down at all. It solves an issue that many of us struggle with without compromising style, but Nike has decided not to acknowledge these benefits it brings to the disabled community. Instead, Nike advertised the shoe as an “accessible solution for all” and a “universal shoe” in its press release. While it is true that people beyond the target users are able to benefit from adaptive and accessible design, it is unfair to erase the initial target users who encouraged and contributed to the design.
Finding a pair of shoes that I can slip on that are also firmly on my feet is strangely thrilling.
Adaptive fashion is often ridiculed by able-bodied people, and this has continued with the Go FlyEase. On Twitter, some responded to the shoe release by calling it merely “convenient” and a shoe for “lazy people.” Some of these comments are due to Nike’s insistence that this shoe is ‘for all’ and not focusing on its importance for disabled people. Disabled people are not "lazy," and a hands-free shoe is much more than “convenient.” It allows me to express myself and make a style choice that isn’t dependent on where I will be taking it off or who will be around to help me.
Nike released a ‘Behind the Design’ video explaining the creative process of the Go FlyEase which included several spirited models dancing, skipping, and carrying a large potted plant in the new Nike shoes. It is upsetting to see that disabled models have not been chosen in promotional footage for a shoe that was built with disability in mind. I find it comical that Nike has chosen to feature models carrying plants or a dozen Nike shoe boxes instead of using this opportunity to empower disabled people by helping to break down social stigmas that have kept disabled people absent from marketing.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected disabled people as we’ve had to shield for close to a year and many of us have been unable to work. I, myself, was made redundant last autumn. The financial hardship exacerbated by the pandemic follow years of welfare cuts targeting disability benefits in the UK. A JRF research report found that 4 million disabled people in the UK live in poverty. The Go FlyEase is priced at £104.95 ($120) – a price that is inaccessible for many disabled people that would benefit greatly from Nike’s adaptive solutions. Nike is appearing more and more out of touch with its disabled customer base.
Nike’s Go FlyEase features a modern design that brings adaptive fashion into the mainstream market and is sure to be revolutionary for disabled people that find it challenging to put on shoes independently. However, Nike has let us down by erasing the disability narrative from its promotion when they actively chose not to acknowledge the background of the FlyEase range and shied away from any use of the word “disabled.” Nike’s unwillingness to show disabled people or use the term “disability” in its promotion of the Go FlyEase perpetuates the idea that a marketing strategy focused on disabled people is undesirable.
Nike, as a global brand, had a perfect opportunity to pioneer adaptive design and make a positive impact in the fashion industry that still poorly serves disabled people. The market for adaptive clothing continues to grow, but it must do so with disabled people front and centre.